A new gazette by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), which supposedly weakens the powers of the Nigerian Bar Association, has caused division among some Senior Advocates of Nigeria and lawyers in the country.
Malami, according to PUNCH, amended the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007, removing the requirement for the NBA stamp and seal on court processes.
Before now, membership of the NBA was compulsory for all lawyers and the stamps and seals were sold at N4,000 for 72 pieces and were given upon payment of NBA dues.
Without the stamp, a lawyer could not submit any document or letter to the court and the sale of the stamp and seal was one of the major sources of NBA’s revenue.
However, with the amendment of the process by Malami, the use of the stamps was no longer necessary.
This also implies that persons, who are not members of the NBA including non-lawyers, are allowed to submit court processes.
The gazette – marked S.I N0.15 of 2020 issued by AGF and dated September 3, 2020, reads in part, “In exercise of the powers conferred on me by section 12(4) of the Legal Practitioners Act Cap L11, LFN 2004 and of all other powers enabling me in that behalf, I, Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and President, General Council of the Bar, make the following rules:
“The Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 is amended by deleting the following rules, namely: 9(2), 10, 11, 12 and 13.
“These rules may be cited as the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Rules, 2020.”
However, while some senior advocates and lawyers described Malami’s action as illegal, others disagreed.
NBA spokesperson, Dr Rapulu Nduka, said that the development was surprising, adding that the association was not carried along.
“We were not carried along and we will definitely ensure that it is reversed. We just woke up to the news of the amendment like every other person. We are consulting with stakeholders and we will make a decision on the next step,” he said.
A human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), said Malami ought to have consulted widely before making the move, which he said would greatly affect the revenues of the NBA.
He, however, said it was unlikely that the AGF had taken sides with the splinter NBA group.
Adegboruwa also said once the seal and stamp were no longer used, the development could lead to an increase in the number of fake lawyers in the country.
Also, a former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof Chidi Odinkalu, described the AGF’s action as illegal.
In a series of tweets, Odinkalu said he was not surprised that Malami, “who has a penchant for disobeying court orders”, would not take such illegal action.
Also, a human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, said the AGF’s action was “blatantly” illegal because the power to amend the rules was the exclusive preserve of the general council of the bar and not of one person.
Effiong said, indeed, the NBA ought not to have commercialised the stamp and seal as it was exploitative.
He, however, said the AGF should stop acting as if he was above the law.
Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, said although he agreed that the AGF’s action was illegal, “it is good riddance to bad rubbish”.
He added, “The NBA is a victim of impunity it nurtured to grow and develop. I have always opposed the stamp and seal because it was meant to restrict access to the temple of justice. Why must every court process be stamped by a lawyer when litigants have the constitutional rights to either appear for themselves or be defended by legal practitioners of their choice? In the Second Republic, the late Prof Ayodele Awojobi, a mechanical engineer, was the leading public litigator in the country. As a layman, he prepared and argued his own cases from the High Court up to the Supreme Court.
“However, I agree with some of my colleagues who have argued that the amendment is illegal as it was not enacted by the General Council of the Bar. With respect, the argument is rather contradictory because the NBA was very happy when the 2007 Rules of Professional Conduct were enacted by the then AGF on behalf of the General Council of the Bar without any meeting. That was how every lawyer was compelled to affix the stamp and seal to all processes signed by lawyers. It had nothing to do with enhancing the quality of justice but designed to enrich the NBA.”
Also, Jubrin Okutepa (SAN) said both the manner of introduction of the stamp and seal through the amendment of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners by the then AGF in 2007 and the removal of the same provisions via another amendment by the incumbent AGF in 2020 followed the due process of law.